Ryan Pulock

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NHL Power Rankings: Teams hit hardest by flat $81.5M salary cap

As focused as NHL teams are on the present with the ambitious return to play, the CBA extension introducing a flat salary cap for 2020-21 leaves GMs (and fans) with plenty to think about.

Sure, there are NHL teams who can take advantage of a flat salary cap. That’s a post for another day — maybe a future edition of PHT’s power rankings?

But, overall, there are plenty of NHL contenders and hopefuls who are sweating that flat salary cap far more than there are those ready to circle like vultures. At minimum, the flat NHL salary cap presents huge obstacles for 2020-21. The ripple effects of COVID-19 could affect multiple seasons, especially if the world continues to struggle to contain the coronavirus.

Let’s power rank the five NHL teams hit the hardest by the flat $81.5 million salary cap, then. While the larger future will be considered, these rankings weigh the offseason heading into 2020-21 most heavily.

Frankly, plenty of teams will sweat this situation, so the honorable mentions section is quite robust.

[At least there’s the NHL return-to-play schedule to look forward to.]

Power rankings: 5 NHL teams hit hardest by the flat salary cap

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Even in an ideal, pandemic-free world, the Lightning would need to tighten their belts. This franchise is a lot like the dynasty-era Blackhawks when it comes to perennial cap crunches, only they sadly don’t have the jewelry to show for it. But with the NHL salary cap flat at $81.5M? That belt-tightening morphs into the potential for painful surgeries.

After all, with about $76M already devoted to 15 players (give or take), things would be snug. Then you factor in talented RFAs Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev deserving significant raises, and … yikes. It’s the sort of thing that might make you want to jet ski out of town.

(Cirelli can’t wait tables forever.)

Infomercial voice: But that’s not all.

To make matters worse, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois faces potential hurdles in no-trade/no-movement clauses. Via Cap Friendly, supporting cast members such as Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn all own such clauses. So, it’s not just about who you’d want to move out (as painful as that already would be), but it’s also about who you could convince to leave.

Even by their frequently cap-challenged standards, the Lightning have their work cut out for them.

2. St. Louis Blues

The Lightning and Blues could really be a 1a/1b situation.

Much like Tampa Bay was expecting struggles even with a cap increase, the Blues likely knew that it would be difficult to keep Alex Pietrangelo. With about $79.45M devote to their roster, how could St. Louis afford a Norris-level defenseman like Pietrangelo? Heck, how can they make it work to keep underrated RFA blueliner Vince Dunn?

Also like the Lightning, it might come down to the Blues convincing players to waive clauses, or finding snug fits to places they’d accept.

Maybe the Blues could make it work by moving a combination of Alexander Steen, Jake Allen, and/or a more painful loss like Brayden Schenn or Jaden Schwartz. Or maybe the Blues lose Pietrangelo, still need to make an uncomfortable decision or two, and need to find a way to stay afloat?

Good thing they won at least one Stanley Cup, eh?

3. Arizona Coyotes

It’s OK if you’re doing a double-take at the Coyotes now. Aren’t they supposed to be a team barely making it to the floor? Weren’t they putting Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk on their cap just to get there?

Well, over the years, the Coyotes have quietly been getting more and more expensive. They haven’t always got what they paid for, but this isn’t a wholly cheap team. (Although there’s still a Marian Hossa here or there on LTIR.)

Cap Friendly places Arizona’s cap allocation at almost $80M devoted to 17 players.

And that’s without Taylor Hall. Trading for Hall represented a statement that the Coyotes want to be taken seriously. Making him more than a rental would really cement that, but could Arizona really make that work — assuming Hall would return?

The Coyotes might deal with many of the same trade clause headaches as others (Phil Kessel, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Carl Soderberg), although bribing someone to take on Derek Stepan‘s $6.5M could be key. It may not be easy to find an oasis in this salary cap desert.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are like a family trying to divvy up a pizza pie. You already had some hungry siblings who were going to leave little more than toppings and crust (see: expensive stars Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner). Now concerned parent/GM Kyle Dubas must deal with being delivered a medium pizza instead of the extra large he was expecting before the flat NHL salary cap.

At least in this coming offseason, he doesn’t have too many overly important mouths to feed.

(Yes, that lengthy pizza parallel is my hunger staining this conversation like grease on a pizza box.)

The flat salary cap hurts the Maple Leafs hardest in trying to make more aggressive moves toward improving. Maybe they can stem the tide of losing flawed-but-featured defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci. But will they get better in hoping internal options like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren can sink, not swim? That remains to be seen.

But Dubas would also probably be wise to get proactive, because the bill is coming soon for key players. If the Maple Leafs want to keep one or more of Frederik Andersen (contract runs through 2020-21) and Morgan Rielly (through 2021-22), it will probably mean making some painful trades during the offseason.

The long-term outlook for the Maple Leafs is bumpy. They’re placed slightly lower in these specific power rankings because other teams face even more immediate concerns, though.

5. New York Islanders

Unlike others on this list, the Islanders aren’t already almost bumping their heads on that flat NHL salary cap ceiling. That said, their almost cozy-looking space (Cap Friendly puts them at about $73.4M pledged to 19 players) could get claustrophobic quickly.

Most importantly, the Islanders need to reach a deal with pending RFA star Mathew Barzal. Back about 20 years ago (OK, March), Lou Lamoriello said that the Islanders would match an offer sheet for Barzal. That’s comforting for Islanders fans who may still smart from losing John Tavares, but that doesn’t mean Barzal will be cheap. Frankly, his talent and importance to the Islanders probably justify a salary far exceeding their cap space.

Even at a discount, the Islanders won’t have much space to retain another important player in RFA defenseman Ryan Pulock. They’ll probably need to find a way to move some shaky contracts (such as those of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk), which is easier said than done, even for a master of the dark GM arts like Lamoriello.

Some teams below might technically face more immediate, in-your-face challenges. On the other hand, the uncomfortable thought for the Islanders is that they might face big bills with diminishing returns.

Quick thoughts on other teams likely to be hit hardest by flat NHL salary cap

You might believe that others deserve a mention, so feel free to chime in via the comments. A few quick hits before we go:

  • The Boston Bruins might rank as the biggest honorable mention. Even if you disagree, you’d likely admit that some pain may come. If they keep Torey Krug around, then Don Sweeney deserves a raise.
  • Then again, the Bruins aren’t alone in the honorable mentions. Much has been made of the Vancouver Canucks, who may feel enough of a squeeze to explain those Brock Boeser trade rumors, even if someone else ends up being the one standing at the end of flat NHL salary cap musical chairs.
  • The Washington Capitals face a conundrum with Braden Holtby, for sure. They also must try to figure out the future for Alex Ovechkin, whose lengthy contract wasn’t as lifetime as it seemed (it ends after 2020-21).
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are required to have cap issues. That’s simply the rule we must all abide by. In the latest iteration, it’s difficult to tell what might happen with their goaltending situation.
  • Again, this might be fodder for a future post, yet opportunistic rebuilding teams could feast if they’re creative. Why not take some short-term pain in the form of shaky contracts to earn long-term gains in future assets, particularly if you don’t expect your team to be very good anyway? A little further down the line, the flat/barely moving NHL salary cap could be a huge boon to the Seattle expansion team, too.

Who else will feel the crunch? Would you rank honorable mentions in the top five, or bump others out? Do tell.

MORE NHL POWER RANKINGS FROM PHT:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Islanders’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New York Islanders.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Islanders will need to lock up a couple of critical restricted free agents this upcoming offseason but have a lot of components signed to long-term extensions.

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified their depth down the middle for years to come. Mathew Barzal has the potential to blossom into an elite centerman while Brock Nelson and Pageau can flip flop between the second and third line. Heart and soul player Casey Cizikas will continue to anchor the fourth line.

New York also has several of its top-nine wingers in place, including Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.

The newest addition to the core will be goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to come to the NHL at the start of next season. The Islanders drafted Sorokin in the third round of the 2014 draft and the Russian netminder has spent the past six seasons in the KHL. He has long been considered one of the best goalies not playing in the NHL. Throughout his career with CSKA, he never finished with a save percentage below .929 and is expected to produce at a similar level in North America.

Islanders goalie coach Mitch Korn has helped develop some of the League’s best goaltenders and Sorokin could be next in line.

Long-Term Needs

While the Islanders have a lot of their core signed to long-term contracts, the organization still needs a high-scoring winger to manufacture offense.

The Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders in a second-round series during last year’s postseason as they won four straight and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. New York only managed to score five goals in those four games and were unable to solve its offensive deficiencies.

The Islanders play a fundamentally sound defensive system but need someone who can create offense on their own to change the momentum within a game. Barzal has a chance to be that type of game-breaker in today’s NHL but you need more than one player with that skillset.

In addition to their lack of offensive punch, the Islanders lost their defensive structure when Adam Pelech was lost for the season in early January. General manager Lou Lamoriello thought he solved the problem with the addition of Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils but the Islanders went 2-5-4 in the 11 games he played and finished in a seven-game skid.

Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to examine why the absence of one player impacted their system as much as it did.

Long-Term Strengths

The impact a coach has on any given team has long been disputed, but the effect Trotz has had on the Islanders is undeniable.

Ever since Trotz inked a five-year contract with the orange and blue, he brought a credibility to the team on the ice. The Islanders became one of the most defensively sound teams in the league and instantly became a playoff contender. With Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a consistent basis.

Besides strong leadership behind the bench, the Islanders have developed a strong culture inside the locker room. Players play for one another and there is a system of accountability that was lacking before Trotz arrived.

Overall, the Islanders should be in the playoff discussion for years to come with a disciplined structure, strong goaltending and a true difference-maker behind the bench. However, in order to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not just a team that qualifies for the postseason consistently, they need to add a dynamic forward.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Islanders bolstered with trade-deadline addition of Pageau

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NEW YORK — After standing pat at the trade deadline a year ago, New York Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello stressed that he didn’t believe in making a deal just to get a new player or two.

It had to be for the right players who would improve the team.

Lamoriello had the same message Monday after acquiring center Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa at this year’s deadline. The move came eight days after the addition of defenseman Andy Greene from New Jersey.

“I think the message to our players in both years is we believe in them and we will always try and make the team better,” Lamoriello said on a conference call.

“You have to be careful at the given time what the needs are and who the type of player is that you want in there and you target that. And if you don’t get that player, you don’t just make a move for the sake of doing it. Last year, we would have made a move if we could’ve gotten the player that maybe we felt could’ve added and not just been another player. Fortunately for us this year, we were able to get that player in that position.”

That’s a big step for an Islanders team that had frustrated some fans by failing to make significant moves at the deadline in recent years. However, when Lamoriello was hired in May 2018, he vowed to change the culture of a team that had missed the playoffs for the eighth time in 11 seasons.

He’s done just that.

Last season, the Islanders spent a big chunk of the season at the top of the Metropolitan Division before finishing second. They swept Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemed to be going their way, then got swept by Carolina when they struggled to score.

This season, New York had a stellar start that featured a franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) before cooling off and shuffling between third place in the division and the Eastern Conference’s two wild cards in recent weeks – even briefly falling out of a playoff spot entirely.

“I’ve heard only good things about the Islanders,” said the 27-year-old Pageau, who agreed to a six-year, $30 million extension following the trade. “I couldn’t be more excited to go on a team that’s going to be competing every year for a playoff, for a championship. … As a player, that’s what we play for, that’s what drives us.”

While Greene was brought on to help a defensive unit that was weakened after Adam Pelech’s season-ending Achilles injury last month, Pageau bolsters the Islanders in the middle. He will likely center the third line behind Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson, with Casey Cizikas on the fourth line once he heals up after a laceration on his left leg.

Pageau comes to New York after putting up a career-high 24 goals and 40 points – just three shy of his best – in 60 games with Ottawa this season. He had four goals and five assists on the power play, and three goals and three assists short-handed.

“It solidifies down the middle for a good period of time,” Lamoriello said. “(Pageau) is a player who fits right in with who we are, the way we play and the style we play. I don’t think there will be much of an adjustment period for him. … I don’t think there were many people out there that could have filled this need, and we were fortunate to get one of them that could.”

Lamoriello wasn’t concerned that Pageau’s extension – which comes after the team re-signed captain Anders Lee and fellow forwards Nelson and Jordan Eberle to big deals last summer – would be a hindrance this summer when Barzal and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews are restricted free agents.

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Lamoriello said. “We certainly have every intention of signing our restricted free agents.”

Pageau was expected to join the Islanders on Tuesday ahead of their home game against the rival New York Rangers, but both he and Lamoriello were unsure if all the paperwork would be filed and approved in time for the newcomer to make his debut.

“I know playing the Rangers is a big rivalry,” said Pageau, who had four goals against the Rangers in a 2017 playoff game. “Obviously it’d be an exciting start to play the game.”

Islanders win wild game over Flyers thanks to Pulock’s late goal

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It probably was not the way the New York Islanders drew it up, but they were able to get a massive 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s game-winning goal with just 41 seconds to play in regulation.

Pulock’s goal came less than a minute after Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier tied the game for the Flyers, erasing what had been a three-goal deficit.

Getting the win in regulation is huge for the Islanders when it comes to potential playoff positioning — it is a four-point swing in the standings — and keeps them in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division with still two games in hand over the Flyers.

The Islanders stormed out of the gates in this one, scoring three goals in the first 15 minutes thanks to goals from Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, and Jordan Eberle.

Eberle’s goal came when he pounced on a rebound following a ridiculous, highlight reel sequence by linemate Mathew Barzal where he flipped the puck in the air to himself, skated through the middle of the Flyers’ defense, and managed to get a shot on goal.

At that point it looked as if the rout was going to be on.

The Flyers, however, managed to push the pace of the game in their favor and gradually chip away at the Islanders’ lead. When Couturier tied it with less than 90 seconds to play it looked like they had every bit of momentum rolling in their favor. But momentum is only as good as the next play, and the next play ended up going the Islanders’ way when Pulock absolutely blasted a slap shot by Brian Elliott for the game-winner.

Barzal set him up with his third assist of the game.

Leo Komarov added an empty-net goal with four seconds to play.

Along with the offensive stars of the night — Barzal, Eberle, Pulock — starting goalie Semyon Varlamov also played a strong game, stopping 35 out of 38 shots, including a handful of highlight reel saves. Don’t let the three goals against on the stat sheet fool you — the Islanders leaned on him heavily in the second and third periods and left him with little margin for error.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Islanders on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With their win last night, the Flyers moved into the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are just one point behind the Islanders, who sit third in the Metro. The Islanders moved into third place in the Metro with their win over the division-leading Capitals last night. They are looking to make the playoffs for the second straight season under Barry Trotz after reaching the Second Round last year.

The Flyers have alternated missing and making the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons. Last season, Philadelphia finished 16 points outside the playoffs but have turned things around under new head coach Alain Vigneault, who led each of his previous two teams (Vancouver and New York Rangers) to the Stanley Cup Final.

After going 13 games without a goal, Flyers captain Claude Giroux has now scored in two straight games. With three points (1G-2A) in Saturday’s win against Washington, Giroux reached 800 points for his NHL career (now 801 points in 876 games). He is the 4th player in Flyers history to reach 800 points.

This is the first of a three-game road trip for the Flyers, facing the Islanders tonight before heading down to Florida to take on the Panthers and Lightning. The Flyers have recently improved their play on the road, winning two straight road games and taking points in each of their last five on the road (3-0-2).

This game will be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the Islanders continue to split their home games with Nassau Coliseum. Despite the complaints from both fans and players, the Islanders have been excellent at the Barclays Center recently. They’ve not lost in regulation in Brooklyn this season (6-0-3).

The Islanders have continued to rotate Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in net. With Greiss earning the win last night against Washington, it looks to be Varlamov’s turn tonight. While the two have had almost identical numbers this season, Varlamov has struggled as of late, losing seven of his last nine starts (2-6-1).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders
WHERE: Barclays Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude Giroux – Sean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykScott LaughtonTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflConnor BunnamanNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

ISLANDERS
Anders LeeMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Anthony BeauvillierBrock NelsonJosh Bailey
Kiefer Bellows – Derick BrassardMichael Dal Colle
Matt MartinCasey CizikasLeo Komarov

Devon ToewsRyan Pulock
Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk
Noah DobsonScott Mayfield

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

Brendan Burke and Brian Boucher will call the action at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kathryn Tappen will anchor studio coverage alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Ben Lovejoy.